Adding an Honors- or Extended-Level English Class Would Work Against Our English Education

Illustration by Phoenix Zhang.

A month ago, when I received an email listing the course offerings for the 2023-2024 school year, I was thrilled by the vast number of options. As a rising junior, I have a new freedom when choosing my classes. Yet as I narrowed down my schedule for the upcoming year, I noticed that there were no advanced, grade-specific English courses. In the core English curriculum required for all high school students, there isn’t an option to enroll in an extended- or honors-level class like there is in other subjects.

When I first decided to write this article, with only one level of required English and echoing concerns voiced by my friends, I believed the English department should have offered more levels. However, after speaking to students and teachers, my perspective shifted; I realized that not only should GDS not add English levels, but doing so would work against our English education.

Katherine Dunbar, the chair of the English department, believes that having one level of a required, grade-specific English course is an integral part of the high school curriculum. The idea of learning with a randomized group of students is beneficial due to the “different voices, perspectives and levels of engagement,” Dunbar said.

In an honors-level English course, having students who are primarily focused on English would limit the variety of voices in the classroom, and breaking students into different English levels would limit diversity. STEM-focused students, who may not take an honors-level English course, might bring a more analytical approach to class, while English-focused students might bring a more creative approach. Because English is a discussion-based class in which many different perspectives are shared, and students can learn from each other, having a variety of learners is crucial.

English is an inclusive subject. Everyone can participate and learn from each other through class discussions and exchanging their own experiences and ideas. This collaboration, which benefits from a diverse range of viewpoints, is unique to courses in the English and history departments. In math classes that have clear distinctions in the levels of understanding they require, students of different levels benefit from individualized instruction.

Originally, I thought that the number of courses offered by GDS wasn’t enough for students to demonstrate and explore their passion for English. For a STEM-oriented student, it’s easy to fill up your schedule with UL and Honors classes. The number of STEM courses makes it possible for colleges to understand the specific areas of science you are interested in. For an English-oriented student, it is more difficult to display your interests.

However, Dunbar noted in our interview that there are many opportunities for motivated students to further their learning through the support of their teachers and independent studies. “We can take you as far as you can go,” Dunbar said. I agree, and I have experienced this openness in the English department myself. Last year, when my English class discussed Homer’s the Odyssey, I was curious about the book. I approached my teacher after class to learn more, and we discussed the Odyssey in detail, with my teacher recommending an author whom I could read outside of class to further my understanding of the text.

The individualized attention that students receive, and the varied ability to further explore a text inside and outside of class, make English unique. When writing an English paper, there is no limit to what you can accomplish. A student can choose areas of a text they are intrigued by and explore them without the “cap,” as Dunbar put it, that exists in math or science, where knowing all of the answers will get you a perfect score.

Additionally, students already feel overwhelming pressure to take rigorous classes. I have personally felt pressure to choose a higher-level math course next school year, and adding Honors English to GDS’ course offerings would only add stress. As in other subjects that offer multiple levels, students might feel obligated to take Honors English to prove their academic abilities to colleges, without necessarily being excited to learn at a higher level.

At first glance, it’s easy to miss why GDS has only one level of English. It is not a lack of attention paid to English students, but rather a dedication to delivering a diverse and limitless learning environment.

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